Caremate: Designing for unsung heroes
When you think about dementia patients, you probably imagine a mildly dishevelled elderly person walking around looking lost.
That’s what we thought too, when we looked at designing for dementia patients. We imagined that the biggest problem would be dementia patients getting lost in the city on the way to finding old haunts — a symptom known as wandering. A quick Google search showed us that there were already plenty of solutions on the market to assist the tracking and safe return of wandering dementia patients.
Digging in to research
We interviewed the manager of a dementia day-care centre, three people with relatives suffering from dementia, and one policeman who has handled wandering dementia patients. That’s when we realised that wandering wasn’t the big problem we thought it was.
The real problem was caregiver education and pre-diagnosis patient management
Until the dementia patient is officially diagnosed or demonstrates irrefutable symptoms of the late stages, the line between a dementia diagnosis and “just getting old” can be blurred.
Dementia patients in the early to moderate stages are typically in denial that they’re experiencing cognitive decline. When our interviewees suggested to their dementia patients (usually an elderly relative) that they seek medical help, they were met with scolding, or worse, aggression. To avoid conflict, the family is forced to adjust to the patient’s needs and symptoms, with a steep learning curve along the way, i.e. home care.
We learned from the day-care centre manager that patients under home care typically experience accelerated cognitive decline because there’s no treatment plan to maintain cognitive levels, and family caregivers though well-meaning are unequipped and uneducated about such matters. There’s only so much you can Google.
Meet Serene Ang
We created a persona based on our research, which we used to help us prioritise features and make design decisions. The persona is a full-time housewife and the primary caregiver of her mother, who she suspects may have dementia.
We also created this user journey map to:
- visualise Serene’s emotional journey against her mother’s decline into moderate stage dementia; and
- identify opportunities for features.
After feature ideation, we prioritised down to a few ideas, based on what would the persona would find useful:
- Symptoms section to explain symptoms in the stages of dementia
- Advice for dealing with dementia — helping the caregiver understand why the patient behaves in a certain way, and how to manage the patient
- Helpline — none of the interviewees knew that there was a free Dementia Helpline, but indicated they would find it useful
- Caremate homecare kit — contains games, conversation cards, and other activities designed to mentally occupy the dementia patient.
- Mind games and reminiscence therapy — contains video instructions for activities mentioned in the homecare kit.
We designed the solution for mobile because it’s a convenient, versatile medium to present information to the user.
Prototyping and testing
We created paper prototypes to validate our initial ideas before moving on to the digital wireframes. The most important thing we learned at the paper prototype stage was that users valued the Caremate homecare kit highly because it would help them engage with the dementia patients.
The biggest changes we made were on the Home screen and the Symptoms screen.
- We originally included to-do lists because we thought that users would find it useful. User feedback indicated it didn’t provide any utility so we removed it.
- A navigation bar at the bottom of the app was originally included, but this was removed for the same reason as the to-do list.
- When we created the digital wireframes, all the app categories were in one colour, which reduced the time for users to accomplish tasks. All users also remarked that a single colour made it harder to differentiate categories from each other. So we added different colours to the various categories.
Tests indicated that users found it hard to differentiate between the symptoms in the early and moderate stages in the way presented in the third screen, and they required more information on each symptom to understand what each one meant. So we redesigned the screen to present the symptoms in two clear stages, with an option to click “Learn more” to read further.
I thoroughly enjoyed working with rshong and JT Studioz to create this positively impactful solution. Our next steps are to contact the Alzheimer’s Disease Association Singapore in order to test this solution on a long-term basis with real caregivers. This may be suitable for a diary study.